You Don’t Have to Brush Your Teeth – Only the Ones You Want to Keep!

Occupational Therapist
April 6, 2023

Brushing teeth and visiting the dentist are two challenging activities for children with sensory issues. The sheer thought of someone going into their mouths can be enough to send children with sensory issues into meltdown mode. With a few practical tips, both you and your child can be better supported in both of these dreaded activities.

Change up tooth brushing

  • Make it feel better. To desensitize gums and help your child tolerate using a toothbrush, massage gums with a rubber finger cot, Toothette, or Den-Tips (available in many drugstores), use a Z-Vibe or other oral vibrator, or swipe gums with a washcloth.
  • Change toothpaste. If your child can’t tolerate toothpaste foam, try non-foaming toothpaste such as Orajel Toddler Training Toothpaste.
  • Make it predictable. Develop a predictable routine for when and how to brush. Help your child choose the brushing pattern. For example, always start with top teeth and brush from left to right, front to back. A consistent brushing pattern will help your child learn to sequence this complex activity, help her to predict when and where she will feel various sensations (instead of feeling assaulted by the toothbrush), and help her feel proud about keeping her mouth and teeth nice and clean.

Prepare for dentist visits

  • Do a trial run. About 2-3 weeks before your initial appointment with the dentist, ask the office if you could stop by and take a tour of the office. This will allow your child to see the waiting room and explore the office so that he is prepared on the day of the appointment. If the setting feels familiar, your child will be less likely to melt down on the day of the appointment.
  • Sensory solutions. Ask the office if your child could wear the lead apron throughout the appointment. The apron is very heavy and would serve as a weighted blanket, which can be calming for many children. Bring headphones for your child to decrease the sounds of all the equipment.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. Call your local dentist and ask what they typically do for an initial visit and practice those activities at home (i.e. explore and play with rubber gloves, vibrating toothbrush, lying back with a bright light overhead). Going through these activities in a safe environment with helping your child tolerate them in the dentist’s office.

For more ideas on practical solutions to everyday sensory concerns visit Raising a Sensory Smart Child.

If you would like more support for the sensory needs of your child, please contact us for an appointment with one of our occupational therapists.

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